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Citizens Force Arizona County to Take Action on Homelessness

November 18, 2022

Violent criminals roaming free. Businesses plundered. Livelihoods smashed into bits.

Law-abiding citizens in Tucson, Arizona, are fed up with the plague of crime brought about by a growing homelessness crisis. They’re demanding that their government leaders protect their rights by enforcing the law—and this week, their leaders took a first step in addressing the crisis.

On Tuesday, the Pima County Board of Supervisors did something that government officials in Maricopa County and the city of Phoenix have failed to do: listen to their constituents. After over three hours of public comments, the board unanimously and in bipartisan fashion passed four motions that are being dubbed “baby steps” in the right direction to address the homeless and crime problem plaguing Tucson. The meeting was filled with supporters of the Tucson Crime Free Coalition, a group of business owners in the Tucson area who have been struggling to stay afloat due to the rise in crime. Wearing all black as a sign of mourning for the small businesses in Tucson, speaker after speaker shared horrifying testimony of their businesses being broken into and robbed, their personal safety being threatened, and their livelihoods being destroyed. All of the speakers, however, were happy that they finally were given a platform to speak about the issues they have been facing. The Tucson City Council has declined to hold such a meeting where citizens can share their stories and discuss solutions.

Unfortunately, a similar situation has been unfolding in the city of Phoenix and Maricopa County as a whole. In a vast downtown section of Phoenix known as “The Zone,” more than 1,000 homeless people have set up camp, leading to a rise in violent crime and the destruction of dozens of businesses. But despite the government’s obligation to all its citizens’ rights, the City Council and County Board of Supervisors have yet to hold any meeting that will allow the public to bring this issue to their elected officials. The refusal to act, or even have a conversation, has forced citizens to file a lawsuit against the city of Phoenix for maintaining a public nuisance in the downtown area. (The Goldwater Institute has filed an amicus brief in support of these citizens’ rights.)

The steps taken by Pima County are a welcome starting point in a process that requires collaboration from both city and county officials. The key theme from the Board of Supervisors meeting was “immediate action.” A larger discussion on long-term solutions is no doubt needed, but what the board and the citizens of Pima County agreed on is that solutions are needed now, and that the can will no longer be kicked down the road. The steps that the board approved include arresting and prosecuting anyone who violates public health and safety laws, and directing any unexpended COVID-19 stimulus dollars to address the homeless crisis.

This is a much-necessitated and long-awaited first step. After all, it’s not humane to let people live on the streets, in an atmosphere riddled with drugs, crime, and disease. Nor is it just to force law-abiding citizens to suffer due to a crisis they didn’t create. Now, there is a clear need for the Tucson City Council to hold a similar meeting, and to work in a bipartisan manner to address their constituents’ concerns. Tucson’s law-abiding property and business owners are hopeful this conversation happens sooner rather than later, because the crisis only continues to worsen the more that elected officials refuse to listen and protect their rights.

Austin VanDerHeyden is the Municipal Affairs Liaison for the Goldwater Institute. 



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